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Wearables, fitness and activity tracking for seniors -- nowhere in mHealth

Wearables – they’re all the rage now.  A $1.5 billion market by 2014, or maybe $6 billion by 2016. That number includes products that are not yet on the market like Google Glass which is due out late 2013 or early 2014. Pogue describes a prototype which has packed “memory, a processor, a camera, speaker and microphone, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi antennas, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass and a battery, all inside the earpiece.” Good luck to us unlucky enough to be in a car while you are enjoying this power.  Today's texting distractions have drivers swiveling all over the highways, walkers slamming into telephone poles and joggers tripping over tree roots.

Find a practical use with older adults. Wearable fitness devices, like Fitbit and Nike+ are here today, maybe 80+ million of these $60 - $100 devices out there, they are part of this $1.5 billion market.  We know that exercise boosts health of older adults -- so says the NIH and every other health site.  So no one argues about that. But none of those sites talk about the use of motivating technologies like these and how they can help get folks up and out, in competition with themselves and with others. Here is where I see a market for boomers and seniors – and so far, there are no attempts to capitalize on these possibilities that I can detect by resellers, apps vendors, or those already in the senior wellness space.

Since hinting doesn’t seem to be helping so let’s spell it out – and provide a link to the developer forum where research initiatives are posted, along with new apps for these devices that are cheaper than smart phones:

  • Senior housing. Give one away upon move-in to to still-mobile Independent Living residents. With a charging dock in Mrs. Smith’s room charging for 1-2 hours and a computer in a wellness nurse or physical therapy office, that's enough. If Mrs. Smith stopped in,  walking data could be uploaded to the computer – enabling reports on Mrs. Smith’s walking pattern: Slower? Faster? How many hours per day is Mrs. Smith motionless, slumped in her chair?  Does she enjoy the rainbow colors it flashes when she is up and about? The newest version uploads to an iPhone, and even if the organization doesn’t want any part of this process, family members could bring in a phone and see how Mom is doing or sleeping.

  • Senior centers and activities in 55+ communities.  Folks arrive for the morning activities and lunch – they are wearing their new Fitbits, clipped to a watch or waistband. They are eager to find out how they’re doing in the competition for ‘Most Steps of the Month” – and after their step totals are recorded, they check a whiteboard to see how they’re doing.

  • Rehab after knee or hip surgery.  Rehab centers begin to provide a Fitbit to new admissions who are getting physical therapy to make their knees or hips more functional before their return home.  Both the therapy session (typically brief) and the Fitbit patterns (the rest of the day!) are viewed together to form a progress report and encouragement. Rehab programs inside senior housing communities also see the potential, hand them out and track.

Sadly, mHealth, co-opted by Health IT, will miss the consumer activity tracker trend. If I study the agenda for the upcoming mHealth Summit, it is obvious that when HIMSS acquired the event, it now has the Health IT spin (care delivery technology, systems and information for the medical community) that HIMSS created and owns.  While the wearable market may be $1.5 billion by 2014, health informatics should already be a $6 billion market and EMR -- a $6 billion market by 2015.  Sweeping them all into one big Health IT bucket – that's a lot of money. That's so good for traditional healthcare tech vendors, appealing one-stop shopping for health providers like hospitals and medical practices, and of course, it is an outstanding win for consultants who are already experts in the world of McKesson, Cerner, Epic, Allscripts, etc. So I predict (this one is easy) that these folk will be no more interested in applications of low-priced activity trackers than they are interested in seniors. Which is to say, unless the senior is a patient in a healthcare, EMR-deploying system, their activity on the way into or out of the building is outside the diagnostic vision of their (XYZ)scope.


Here is some ggod news: Oregon State University engineers develop tiny, inexpensive chip to monitor vital signs

This tiny chip developed at Oregon State can monitor all sorts of vital signs. LARRY PRIBYL/Oregon State University Call them toys or call them training tools, electronic fitness monitors can offer intriguing insight into everything from the rate at which your heart beats to the number of steps you take or calories you expend over the course of the day.

Typically they're not cheap, though. Take, for instance, Nike's $150 FuelBand, or Fitbit brand monitors costing $55 to $99 that can track your activity or sleep.

Now, electrical engineering students and faculty at Oregon State University hope to give such gizmos a run for their money. They've developed, are patenting and planning to take to market technology that can monitor vital signs with sensors so miniscule and inexpensive they could fit on a small adhesive bandage, cost less than 25 cents and be disposable.

In collaboration with private industry, they expect to move the sensor-packed microchip, the size and thickness of a postage stamp, into the consumer marketplace, perhaps by mid 2013.

Plus, they'll pursue U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval so the system could one day be used in everyday medical care.

"We can now make important biomedical measurements more portable, routine, convenient and affordable than ever before," says Patrick Chiang, associate professor in OSU's School of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science.

The sensors are non-invasive. They'll be able to stick on the skin to monitor anything from atrial fibrillation in heart patients to brain signals in those with dementia to physical activity in those trying to lose weight.

The system doesn't require batteries, which enables its tiny size. Radio frequencies from nearby cell phones power it.

It will wirelessly tether to cell phones, and the team has funding, Chiang says, to develop an app and Cloud monitoring for storing the data collected.

OSU graduate and post-doctoral students have worked with Chiang on the devices. The team is partnering with OSU's Linus Pauling Institute and Oregon Health and Science University to conduct the clinical trials necessary for FDA approval. The work is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Catalyst Foundation.

So, how excited does all this make Chiang?

Well, if he was wearing one of the devices, it might detect a fluttering heart.

- Katy Muldoon; twitter.com/katymuldoon

Enjoyed the discussion but I would argue that having another wearable might not help. Even if you could bring down the cost, you are inducing a new behavior....which as we know is never easy. In our experience after the novelty ...few people routinely wear their new sensor. Furthermore some wearable sensors need charging, often get lost and some limitations in the range of activities they track.

There is a however a sensor laden devices that many of us, including Senior Citizens carry upon us already - the Smartphone. We have already made the behavior change - and many of have a smartphone with us for most of the day. The smartphones already have the sensors you need for continuous activity tracking. This is what Semusi Activ is doing - battery efficient 24x7 tracking of your day to day activity - the time and calories you spend sitting, walking, running, standing all measured unobtrusively using your smartphone.



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